The Mote-Plank Meltdown

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 24, 2004

In the course of a provocative article in the Weekly Standard titled The Myth of the Catholic Voter, Joseph Bottum explains how the Catholic Church became almostly instantaneously irrelevant on public issues of morality:

As their ability to deliver votes declined ... the bishops have had for many years only Catholicism's intellectual and moral prestige with which to try to persuade politicians.

The intellectual terms triumphed to a surprising degree. But the moral authority vanished overnight in the priest pedophilia scandals. On December 1, 2001, the Catholic Church was at the front of the fight against cloning. Two months later, by February 1, 2002, the Catholic Church had essentially disappeared from the battle. In the middle of the campaign to force Tom Daschle, then majority leader, to allow an anti-cloning bill to come to the floor of the Senate, one major metropolitan bishop told me he didn't dare lobby his senators on the issue -- for fear they would answer, "Who the hell are you to lecture me on a moral issue?" and rupture their relationship forever.

Twenty-five years of the prestige built up by John Paul II and Mother Teresa swirled away in an instant. And at every moment since, whenever the bishops have tried to intrude on public affairs, there has been someone ready to remind us of their sins. When Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput demanded this October that Catholics vote against pro-abortion politicians, Maureen Dowd immediately used her column in the New York Times to denounce "the shepherds of a Church whose hierarchy bungled the molestation and rape of so many young boys by tolerating it, covering it up, enabling it, excusing it, and paying hush money" for daring to debate "whether John Kerry should be allowed to receive communion."

Last April, Rod Dreher insightfully and forcefully pointed out the same dilemma, which he dubbed the mote-plank factor: "Thou hypocrite!" said Jesus "first cast out the plank out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Lacking the backbone to acknowledge -- much less remedy -- the problem of moral turpitude in their own ranks, the bishops have made themselves into moral geldings. A desultory collection of specimens shows that Right and Left are equally quick to exploit the mote-plank vacuum:

From Diane Williamson [Worcester MA Telegram & Gazette 5-27-2004]:

I suppose if anyone should know about cooperation with evil it's the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, who for years allowed known child molesters to distribute Communion but now seek to impose a litmus test on Catholics wishing to receive it.

From New York Newsday, 5-13-2004]:

U.S. Rep. Peter King expressed outrage Thursday at the claim by a top Vatican official that the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal was worse for America than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "It's the ultimate hypocrisy," said King (R-Seaford), a practicing Catholic. "If there's anyone in the world who has no right to speak on sexual abuse, it's the Vatican.

From Rea Howarth, coordinator of Catholics Speak Out [6-15-2003]:

The eminent Cardinal Josef Ratzinger virtually leaped to impose the church's ultimate penalty on the women less than two months after their ordinations -- all the while they were pondering how to treat problem priests who abused children. It is more than strange that no priests or bishops have been excommunicated for their part in crimes that destroyed the lives of children and nuns, but women, acting on a sacred call to ministry are a threat that cannot be tolerated.

There's lots more, but you get the drift. As Bottum's essay makes clear, the moral meltdown has no end in sight. And as OTR has never ceased repeating, forgiveness and respect -- when applied to a collectivity -- are mutually exclusive demands. You may deserve neither; you can't get both. The bishops have themselves elected the former in preference to the latter. In refusing to confront the problems within their ranks they effectively forbid us to treat them, quâ bishops, as morally serious persons. Where we agree with Bishop So-and-so on a question of moral importance, it will be in spite of, not because of, his membership in the episcopal college. Strange as it seems, that's the way they want it.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 27, 2004 7:03 PM ET USA

    "protestantized..." you say, minidoc??? I rather see the "protestants" as "fellow victims.." It was the "spiritual ancestors" of the present bishops and their abuses that drove those medeival Catholics from the Church... although i would concede that a total absolution for the blame (of separation) would be inappropriate... The BIG question is, will we as modern laity respond more effectively to these modern abuses then did our lay forbearers, preventing further schism and confusion...

  • Posted by: - Oct. 26, 2004 10:33 PM ET USA

    The goal is heaven. I want all the means available to help me attain that goal. I am a Catholic and so I firmly believe in the necessity of the sacraments as vehicles of grace to help me reach "the goal." To receive the sacraments I need bishops and priests. The problem is I need bishops and priests who are Catholic and not effeminate protestantized pseudo-Catholic "career men." The situation in certain areas is truly desperate. Truth and Faith do not change and so I am a "traditionalist."

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Oct. 25, 2004 11:57 AM ET USA

    It will take 50 years and a generation of Catholics yet to be born who will not have a living memory of this scandal for it to fade. Bishops today concentrate their concern on the men and women that they have coercive power over: priests, most of all, and then diocesan employees, and to a lesser extent volunteers at the parish level. "You salute the uniform, not the man" doesn't apply here because as a group they have failed to bring to justice the men who disgraced their pectoral crosses.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 25, 2004 11:30 AM ET USA

    The bishops have destroyed their own authority by refusing to deal with the sex abuse scandal. The problem is enunciated in the title of a book: "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy." The gay & gender femme viewpoint permeates the episcopate, the liturgy & catechesis which explains why they are so trite. I don't mean this in a derogatory way but the stunted sexuality (male and female) remains adolescent. It took this convert a short 6 yrs to learn to ignore the clergy with a few precious exceptions

  • Posted by: - Oct. 24, 2004 2:42 PM ET USA

    There is a way of dealing with bishops and priests that I have only recently learned from cradle Catholics (whom I had heretofore thought bereft of any worthwhile knowledge). I noticed that those born into the Faith weren't getting mad when, short of the Scandal, priests and bishops were willfully screwing things up. After some investigation, I found that cradle Catholics actually *ignore* the clergy. I (ecumenically) call it "The Tao of the Cradle Catholic." It takes some practice, but it works

  • Posted by: - Oct. 24, 2004 2:29 PM ET USA

    What they want is whatever they can hold on to. They can't have leadership, so they cling to authority--bullying whom they can and ignoring or cowering from those they can't. They can't have respect, so they cling to the money they are able to take in from the annual diocesan collection--knowing that it is but a small fraction of what they could have if they were even mediocre in their office. And, so on. They have settled for what they can get, and forced us to do the same.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 24, 2004 10:55 AM ET USA

    Alas, I am sorry to say, your conclusion perfectly reflects the reality as we see it in the Church today.